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On a hot day, few things hit the spot better than a cool cup of water ice. It’s sweet, but not overly sugary. Frozen, but easily slurped. And you’re hard pressed to find it anywhere but Philadelphia.
Sure, other places have alternatives. There’s Italian ice, which is usually harder and sometimes requiring scraping with a wooden spoon. Frozen lemonade — but only one flavor = boring. And slushies, which are softer and prone to causing brain freeze. Along with the idiosyncratic name (ice made from…water?) Philly seems to have a lock on the particular consistency and flavor balance that makes real wooder ice so good.
The treat is thought to have originated with Italian immigrants recreating the granita commonly served in their native land, and nowadays there are shops specializing in it across the city.
Looking for a place that’s not a corporate chain? Here’s a rundown of great spots to get water ice around Philadelphia.
What started in 1945 as a counter in a former auto garage near the Italian Market has turned into a water ice institution with a roving truck and a new outpost on the northeast edge of the city in Huntingdon Valley. It’s now run by the second and third generations of the Cardullo family, whose recipes make use of fresh fruit. Visiting on the weekend? Try special flavors like pina colada and honeydew. 701 Christian St.; 2975 Philmont Ave., Huntingdon Valley
After getting his start with a popular cart that still frequents his alma mater, Temple alum Siddiq Moore took his frozen treat prowess to Cobbs Creek. His colorful corner shop is helping transform the 60th Street corridor, but the product — don’t miss the unique white grape flavor — stands out on its own. 264 S. 60th St.
West Philly’s Overbrook neighborhood lays claim to what might be the longest serving water ice shop in the city, with a history that dates back to 1925. Steven Caporaletti started working at the shop at age 15, and now runs the joint. Flavors are mostly classic, with specials like blueberry, peach and mango thrown in the mix. 200 N. 63th St.
Second-gen owner Phil Mancusco, who died a few years back, started scooping water ice at the East Passyunk market when he was 8 years old, then picked up the tradition of making it with real fruit. He passed on the storefront to good friends who continue to make classic cherry, chocolate, and lemon. Don’t miss the chance to pick up some housemade mozzarella (or a hoagie) while you’re there. 1902 E Passyunk Ave.
A point of pride for residents of Germantown, this family-owned spot has been producing water ice since 1969. The wholesale production facility is fronted by a retail counter, where two dozen flavors are offered by the scoop or in “party buckets.” 5901 Belfield Ave.
A relative newcomer with a throwback vibe, this mobile operation now has a storefront on East Passyunk, right down the block from Mancuso. Here, the textures are smooth, the soft-serve is plentiful, and the flavors are unusual, like guava strawberry lemonade and “pineapple ru-berry” — both made with organic fruit juice. 1928 E Passyunk Ave.
Open since 1993 — year-round! — this mom-and-pop Roxborough spot offers a full breakfast menu. From noon onward it’s water ice time, with a variety of flavors made in fresh batches throughout the day, including pineapple, grape and “mocaccino.” 4240 Pechin St.
This new player on the scene is also doling out scoops of hard ice cream and soft pretzels on a quiet block in Port Richmond. Here, you’ll find a rare sighting: water ice with toppings directly on it, like watermelon and passionfruit combos dappled with fresh fruit chunks or granola. 2900 Aramingo Ave.
Legend has it that Filippo “Pop” Italiano started selling water ice from a pushcart way back in 1932, making him the true OG of the game. The Oregon Avenue shop his descendants now run offers many flavors, including the unique “iced tea water ice.” Bonus: open through 11 PM nightly. 1337 Oregon Ave.
Open late until 11 p.m. daily, this South Philly stand also specializes in other county fair fare, like pizza-flavored pretzels and nachos. Rumor has it this is some of the best lemon wooder ice in the city, with a thicker consistency than your typical frozen treat. 1835 Snyder Ave.
Instead of a trip to the boardwalk, make your way to this two-decade-old Pennsport stand, where more than a dozen kinds of water ice are served along with funnel cake and fried Twinkies and Oreos. Also on offer: sugar-free water ice, and reports say it’s not half bad. 2251 S. Front St.
Though Philadelphians know Andre Andrews for his mobile water ice stand, his brand of “Southern style” ice cream now retails in Walmarts and ShopRites across the country. Black Though of the Roots is one of his biggest fans, and we both can vouch for the sweet potato flavor. Location varies
In 1957, Mickey Nerenberg bought a truck for $100, outfitted it with a freezer and began selling water ice around the city. A few years later, he and his brother went brick and mortar and opened a store at the edge of East Kensington. With at least four dozen flavors, the shop is now in its 54th year and still going strong. 1950 E. Lehigh Ave.
A favorite of students when it was located across from Overbrook High, this stand has moved and is now open in Strawberry Mansion on the edge of East Fairmount Park. Soft pretzels and late-night hours help the shop maintain its popularity. 1641 N. 33rd St.
From kiwi to tangerine to pistachio, 20 flavors of water ice stock the menu at this Kingsessing stand. Late-nighters take note: It serves ice daily through midnight, along with snack essentials like cheese pretzels and chicken tenders. 5343 Chester Ave.